Ruy Teixeira (co-author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority”” laid out a great description of the Democratic strategy in the 2014 elections at an event last month: he called it an “experiment in agendaless mobilization.” Nice!
What was he getting at? The same basic ideas that a lot of us in the Democratic political world have been talking about, that Democratic campaigns ignored big-picture messaging around the economy, the health care law, immigration and other base-mobilizing issues while still running a turnout operation that was highly proficient technically. But even the best campaign mechanics won’t work unless you give people a reason to vote! Despite our skills, experience, testing and fundraising, Dems were beaten because we ignored one of the oldest rules of politics: messages matter. A tough way to have to relearn that lesson!
On a related note, apparently I hacked a couple of people off by asking an impertinent/rude question in a session on digital fundraising at a Google-sponsored event earlier this week. It wasn’t a unique question; it was one that many of us have been asking: whether or not the consistently negative messaging in the dozens of Democratic fundraising emails sent every week could have suppressed the Democratic vote or otherwise hurt. The DCCC’s Brandon English came back with an excellent reply, that the fundraising paid for millions of voter contacts that would otherwise not have taken place, and that the D-trip will be going through the voter file once the data’s available to try to quantify any effects. I’ll be excited to see the results, since without data, all we have is gut feeling, which is very often wrong.
But apparently some others in the room weren’t pleased that I asked the question at all, to which I can only reply, “too bad.” If Democrats can’t ask tough questions of ourselves, and if we can’t hold the party structure accountable for what it does on our behalf, we’re in big trouble. If feathers got ruffled, don’t blame the ruffler: if a question makes you uncomfortable, that suggests to me it’s a question that very much needs to be asked. I wish someone had tossed a few tough questions at the party bigwigs who made the decision last summer to run away from the president and everything Democrats have achieved in the last six years. That bit of conventional wisdom sure as hell doesn’t look so wise in retrospect…or to some of us, at the time.